Dakar Rally champions leading rallies in Morocco and Abu Dhabi

Sajith B Warrier

Bengaluru, April 3: Dakar Rally heavyweights are leading in the pack at the midway point of two separate FIA cross-country events.

In Morocco, at the Merzouga Rally it's current Dakar champions Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah (QAT) and Mathieu Baumel (FRA) who lead the SxS contest.

Meanwhile, 13-time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel (FRA) is out front at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, assisted by his wife Andrea (GER) as co-driver.

Al Attiyah and Baumel will be aiming to close out victory on Friday (April 5) with four stages still remaining in Morocco. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge concludes on Thursday (April 4) at the Yas Marina Circuit with three of the five desert stages still to be raced.

Flying start

It has been a flying start by Al Attiyah and Baumel who are setting the pace in the SxS contest. It's the first time the duo have entered a SxS race, and so far they seem to be adapting very well to the new discipline.

"I'm delighted to be here. This rally has already proved its worth, and it's an opportunity for me and Mathieu Baumel to experiment with a side-by-side. We're really excited about this new adventure," said Al Attiyah.

Expert driving and navigation

The first two desert stages in Abu Dhabi have been dominated by minimal visibility, huge drops, relentless wind and soft sand. Expert driving and navigation from the Peterhansel husband-and-wife crew have given them a 2m26s lead over second placed Bernhard ten Brinke (NLD) after nearly 500 kilometres of desert racing.

"It was a complicated stage and we saw a few cars ahead struggling and getting stuck, so we played it safe," said Peterhansel, the MINI John Cooper Works Rally driver.

Despres in trouble

Among the cars getting stuck in the soft sand on the second stage was the MINI John Cooper Works Buggy belonging to Cyril Despres (FRA).

Despres, racing alongside co-driver Dani Oliveras (ESP) for the first time, won the first stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. However, a huge stoppage on the second stage looks to have ended this duo's chances of victory this time around.

Sunderland leads bike race

The bike contest at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is currently being led by 2017 Dakar winner Sam Sunderland (GBR).

The Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider shot out of the blocks on day one to build a lead of over six minutes. But with winds of over 30kph churning up the sand and reducing visibility on the second stage, Sunderland's job of opening the road was a tough one. After two stages the British rider's lead has been cut to less than a minute.

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